A Corner Of Bushwick Goes Up In Flames

Not even seeing its first birthday, Bushwick grocery store and restaurant Christa’s Kitchen, along much of the surrounding corner of Cooper Street and Bushwick Avenue, was engulfed by a five-alarm fire on Wednesday, which quickly spread to the pharmacy and some of the residential buildings next door.  

The inferno left six firefighters and one resident with minor injuries, according to the NYFD. Altice’s local News 12 affiliate cites a claim from the Red Cross that the fire has displaced 55 people. The fire department has yet to announce what they think caused the blaze.

In an email on Monday, a Red Cross spokesman claimed that the group has “registered 19 households” so far for temporary lodging and financial assistance from the group, including “43 adults, 17 children, 4 dogs and 3 cats.”

In a press conference, an FDNY Assistant Chief Tom Currao said firefighters first arrived within three minutes of the 911 call, but because the attached buildings were older wood structures, the fire had already spread quickly. 

“We actually have probably the equivalent of a seventh or eighth alarm here,” said Currao. First Deputy Commissioner Joseph Pfeifer says that as the fire escalated, it eventually brought over 250 firefighters to the scene. 

The smoke plume from the massive fire blanketed the streets, and the smoke was seen and smelled as far as Central Park. 

Standing on the sidewalk amongst neighbors, watching as FDNY and other officials continued to work even a day later, there was still a palpable air of shock and awe as people recounted witnessing the fire swiftly spread to the other surrounding buildings. 

According to News 12, a dog had died in the fire but no people were seriously injured.

Outside, one resident had expressed shock and gratitude that the injuries weren’t worse. They said that a family from one of the buildings has a family member in a wheelchair, which could have made getting out of the burning building even more difficult. 

Another recounted how they had just been at the grocery store buying flowers, and the next thing they knew, the store was up in flames.

“[I’m] born and raised in New York, and I’ve never seen something quite like this,” said Kira Lonsdale, who also lives nearby. She says she saw the plume of smoke from her apartment window and went outside to see what was going on.

Among those displaced residents is Nancy Conforti, who lost her apartment and belongings in the blaze. There’s already a GoFundMe to help her get back on her feet. As of Friday, it’s already raised $15,600. 

“As a freelance sound engineer, Nancy consistently works out of her apartment and housed audio and recording equipment and work pieces that will be impossible to recoup,” a GoFundMe post from her siblings reads. 

Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, whose district includes the store where the fire took place, emailed a statement reading: “Our office is working on creating a collection drive for the families. We have been in communication with the families and we are assessing their needs.” 

She further added that her office was working with the Red Cross to distribute temporary housing to people displaced by the fire. “At this time, most of the families have a place to stay,” Nurse’s statement says.

This is just the latest in a run of destructive fires in Bushwick, including a five-alarm fire at a local church on Easter and a fire on Knickerbocker Ave. in November. According to city figures, Nurse’s district is currently ranked 23rd out of 51 city districts for the most fire service dispatches. The neighboring district, which covers the rest of Bushwick, is ranked 19th

Jennifer Gutierrez, the councilwoman for the neighboring district, is currently sponsoring a package of bills aimed at supporting victims of fires called the “Back Home Package,” co-sponsored by Shekar Krishnan, a councilwoman from Queens. In response to an email, Nurse’s office declined to say if she supported the bill package.  

One of those bills, Intro. 749, calls for creating an office of residential displacement remediation and creating an online portal so that city offices and officials can have one central place to provide updates on properties and tenants can see updates on their homes. 

Per a representative from Gutierrez’s office, landlords aren’t obligated to provide this kind of information and her office says that this bill would provide more accountability for landlords, ensuring they are submitting work permits for repairs and responding to their tenants. 

Also part of the package is Intro. 750, which would provide oversight requiring landlords to provide more documentation before demolishing buildings and Res. 207, which asks the state legislature to create a three-month cap on landlords being able to claim loss-of-rent insurance payments without doing significant repairs. 

Also in the bill is Intro. 751, which calls for FDNY and other city agencies to create an official  fire response guide to provide to victims after a fire. Having the FDNY distribute a guide like the one that Gutierrez’s office has created would be instrumental in providing information and resources to tenants, her office claims. 

Photos taken by Rebecca VanderKooi for Bushwick Daily.

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